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Before you start reading this article, I feel like it should be disclosed that I am a liberal leaning individual who isn’t a great admirer of Imran Khan’s politics. In fact, I voted for the recently deposed Prime Minister’s political party in the last general elections. So, I’m definitely not a follower of the more popular sociopolitical school of thought dominating the Pakistani social media ecosystem.
Simply put, I am a liberal (or as my fellow countrymen prefer to call it ‘a pseudo-liberal’) Patwari. If you find my credentials disqualifying, I would suggest that you should not ruin your mood by continuing to the next paragraph. Feel free to proceed directly to the comments section, channel you inner Sheikh Rasheed psychic and try to predict how many aalo walay naans I received in return for my services for the Modi-Nawaz nexus. (Hint: it’s 5).
To those still reading, thank you for sticking around.
What prompted me to write this article are my liberal inclinations and not my disdain or admiration for any individual politician. In the aftermath of Ayesha Gulalai’s press conference yesterday, I felt the need to write something about the barrage of attacks that were directed towards the poor soul. Ordinarily progressive social media pages would’ve picked up on the anti-liberal acts but for some strange reason, they seemed to have dropped the ball on this one.
My guess, this might have to do something with the person who is being accused and his popularity among the social media users of Pakistan, but that is sheer speculation and I would want to believe that’s not the case. Nothing against these outlets, the courage it takes to address issues like minority and women’s rights in this increasingly intolerant society of ours is commendable. So, more power to them.
Coming to the topic, victim blaming is the act of blaming the victim for somehow being responsible for the wrong that has been done unto him or her. Not everyone who engages in this act is necessarily a bad or a hateful person. Many times, we victims blame without even realizing that that is what we are doing.
There can be a multitude of reasons, either conscious or subconscious, which might prompt this behavior; we might not like the accuser and we let our dislike for the individual eclipse our sense of justice; we might have great admiration for the accused and we reject the accusations straight away because not doing so would mean that we would have to lower the accused from the pedestal that we’ve set him at; another reason could be that the nature of the accusations clash with some moral code that we individually or as a society subscribe to. I believe that in this particular case, the victim blaming is stemming from the last two causes. The moral code here would be our sense of “ghairat”.
Victim blaming is not unique to South Asia. It is in fact quite rampant in the western world too. Some examples from the recent past which come to mind right away are the vicious campaigns launched by the comedian Bill Cosby, then presidential candidate Donald Trump and former Fox News host Bill-O’Reilly to discredit the women who accused the celebrities of sexually harassing/assaulting them.
Just as the act itself is common among different cultures, so are some of the typical tools used by people engaging in it. A few of the all-time favorite strategies include: questioning the accuser’s character, questioning her motives and questioning her choice of timing to come out. The victim blaming that followed Ms. Ayesha’s press conference employed all these strategies.
If you go through the comments section of articles related to the story, you will get a feel of the kind of assertions being made by the victim blaming mob. The comments are full of conspiracy theories suggesting that she is working at the behest of the deposed PM to malign Imran Khan. Even her sister’s lack of piety was thrown into the mix by a PTI spokesperson, just because she plays squash in shorts.
Ms. Gulalai’s claims, if true, amount to workplace sexual harassment by her boss and we owe it to our principles to be consistent in our outrage, irrespective of how we might feel about the accused or the accuser. Whether Ms. Ayesha’s claims are true or not, that is something only time will tell, but our tendencies to blame the victim and question her intentions right off the bat is something that needs to be addressed. Victim blaming is our natural reaction, kind of like a reflex action, to hearing news about sexual harassment or violence against women. The whole Qandeel Baloch saga and the more recent Khadija stabbing case are perfect examples of these tendencies.
Let’s try to be patient and wait for facts to come out instead of blaming the victim right away; because in case the accusations are true, our actions would’ve not only hindered a victim’s access to justice but they would’ve also added to a sufferer’s suffering.